By LACEY MCLAUGHLIN
RIDGELAND - As citizens packed City Hall this week to speak against a proposed pit bull ban, city officials, unable to resolve the controversy, say they hope to bring the matter to a vote before the end of the year.
"We feel strongly about strengthening the existing ordinance, but we want to deal with this in the right way and protect responsible dog owners," said Mayor Gene F. McGee.
Aldermen were unable to reach a consensus during an hour-long executive session Tuesday night.
The Mayor and Board of Aldermen plan to work with the police chief and city attorney to find the best solution.
"This is something that doesn't need to keep going on," McGee said.
The proposed ban is the result an ongoing dispute between two neighbors on Ralde Circle in which one neighbor considers the other's dogs to be a threat to their family.
A dog trainer and pediatric nurse was among those urging city officials not to ban pit bulls.
Rebecca Bailey, the trainer and nurse, spoke out against the ban at a work session of the mayor and board Monday night.
She suggested that the city require residents to register their pit bulls with a record of the breed, its location, health, training.
Bailey was among the majority of citizens who spoke against the ban at the Monday night work session.
"If a dog is trained right and treated right it's not going to have problems," Bailey said. "People willing to register their dogs are the people who want to do the right thing and take care of their dogs."
Debbie Stringer, a nurse for 29 years, spoke in favor of the ban, stating that nature of pit bull bites are worse than any other breed.
"Pit bulls have very strong jaws, and typically go for the face, eyes, and throat," she said.
Stringer estimated that she has seen 20 dog bites in the past three years come into the emergency room where she works.
"The majority of victims are children because they are eye level to the dogs, and many times it is the family owned pet that goes after them," she said.
A proposed amendment to the animal control ordinance would effectively ban pit bulls and other breeds.
The ordinance would give residents 30 days to remove the dogs from their home.
The amendment was proposed in September but delayed when the board opted to gather more information about the legality of a breed specific ban.
The ordinance specifically calls for a ban on American pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terrier Rottweilers and the first generation offspring of these breeds.
Under the penalties stipulated in the ordinance, failure to comply would result in a $1,000 fine and an additional $1,000 for each day the dog stays on the property.
The proposed ordinance also states that any dog deemed as "dangerous" would also be removed from households.
Alderman Chuck Gaiter said that he and other members are leaning towards a ban.
"We don't want to harm or punish dog owners, this is a very difficult situation," he said.
Gloria Grantham of Ralde Circle attended the meeting and spoke against the ban. Her neighbor, April Scott, told the board in September that the Grantham dogs were dangerous.
The city in May had granted the Granthams a special permit to keep six dogs, despite a city ordinance allowing no more than three.
The board recently revoked that permit due to the Scott's complaints.
Still not satisfied with the request, Scott took the Granthams to court last month asking for the removal of the dogs.
A Ridgeland Municipal Court judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to deem the dogs as dangerous.